Saturday, April 27, 2019

Taylor Dunes and Stiltcoos Trails

My exploration of all things Siltcoos continued with several short hikes in the Siltcoos River area. None of the trails in the vicinity of the Siltcoos are particularly long but by stringing several of them together, hikers can cobble together a cumulative distance worthy of the long drive from Roseburg. And I did that very thing on a superb spring day at our Oregon coast, several days after my hike to Siltcoos Lake, also in the same area.

A small piece of Taylor Lake

The first hike of the day was at Taylor Dunes, located a few miles south of the Siltcoos River. The trail began at Taylor Lake, a small coastal lake reposing in a dense forest. While the trail followed the shoreline, it really wasn't easy to see the lake as it was mostly hidden by dense vegetation ringing the lake basin. In fact, there is only one place where you can get a good look at the lake, and it's only a partial view at that.

A fern paw beckons
After a half-mile of walking alongside the mostly hidden body of water, the trail peeled away from Taylor Lake and headed uphill through the coastal forest. The day was sunny, but you would never know it from walking in the well-shaded forest. Tall rhododendrons arched over the trail, their palmate leaves providing shady relief to hikers perspiring from the labor and toil of walking uphill. A healthy population of ferns fascinated as the fronds were curled up tighter than a fetal position at the feet of a growling bear. The tips of the fronds looked like curled monkey paws crooking their feral fingers in my direction, to entice (or lure) me further into the dark forest.

Taylor Dunes spreads out from the trail
All the cool shade ended when the trail crested a high point and entered the dunes. An expanse of beachgrass-covered sand dunes stretched out in front of me under a bright sun and blue sky. Beyond the dunes was a forest growing behind the beach foredunes because European settlers had decided importing beachgrass was a good thing. The beachgrass then happily created the beach foredunes and effectively interrupted the cycle of dune replenishment, which in turn allowed the forest to establish itself. Beyond the forest were the foredunes and beyond those, was the actual Pacific Ocean. 

Beach strawberry was in bloom

The terrain and scenery reminded me a lot of Tahkenitch Dunes which was only natural, since they both share the same basic ecologies and biomes. But where the Tahkenitch Dunes Trail just shoots perfunctorily straight across the sand dunes, the Taylor Dunes Trail wanders hither and yon on its curlicued way to the beach. The route sort of reminded me of those beetle tracks you find on sand dunes in the morning, going everywhere yet nowhere in particular.

If I don't go in, the deer can't eat me
After a wiggly tour through the sand and beachgrass, the path entered the forest and said goodbye to all the nice sunlight. Basically, the trail was a tunnel of darkness because the tree and forest growth was so thick and impenetrable that they effectively prevented most of the sunlight from filtering down to the trail. It would have been a perfect place for the deer to ambush me, but I'm glad to report I was not waylaid by the cervine thugs and safely made it to the beach without getting robbed of my hiking poles.

Beautiful beach on a painfully windy day
This was the second time in my life I'd considered hiking to the Siltcoos River from the south. It would have been a fairly long hike from Taylor Dunes but the whole hiking to the Siltcoos thing was rendered moot anyway when for the second time in my life, a strong wind blowing from the north dissuaded me of that notion. I don't carry a pocket anemometer with me, but I always carry my Face-O-Meter, which calculates wind speed by measuring pain caused by wind-driven high-speed sand particles impacting delicate and tender facial skin. I'd venture to guess the wind speed was pretty near forty miles per hour and I quickly walked back into the dunes while some epithelial cell layers still remained on my incredibly handsome visage.

The Siltcoos River flows lazily by
After completing the short Taylor Dunes tour, I hopped in the car and drove over to the Waxmyrtle Trailhead and headed down its namesake Waxmyrtle Trail. For most of this hike, the trail stayed high above the Siltcoos River in yet another lush coastal forest. Frequent openings in the forest provided plenty of vantage points from which to observe and ponder the Siltcoos flowing lazily below. Underneath the trees was a dense undergrowth comprised mostly of salal and coastal huckleberry, each specie profusely flowering in full spring song.

Willow catkins poof out
After a mile or so, the trail exited the forest and ambled between the marshes and ponds setting up shop behind the beach foredunes. And once the marshy bit was exited, it was back on the beach getting sandblasted again. I see a trend here, and maybe I should just give up on hiking to the Siltcoos River from the south. Of course, if I were to hike to the river from the north, I'd still have to endure the high-velocity dermabrasion treatment on the way back. Maybe I'll come back armed with a face shield or suit of armor.

A quiet place on Siltcoos Lagoon
Just like before, I hurriedly removed my poor face from the windblown beach, while I still had a face. After a perfunctory hike back to Waxmyrtle Trailhead, I crossed the road and began hiking on the Siltcoos Lagoon Trail, a short loop that follows the interior shoreline of the lagoon. The lagoon used to be a large oxbow bend in the actual Siltcoos River, but when the campground road was constructed, it effectively detached the oxbow from the river, converting a flowing river into a lethargic lagoon which will eventually dry up and become a meadow. Wow, between the beachgrass and lagoon, I got to observe and experience first-hand some mankind-caused environmental mayhem.

Salal dangles like so many teats on an udder
Despite its unnatural creation, the lagoon is truly a peaceful place with still ponds and marshes dying and lying next to the forested trail. Waterfowl occasionally ruffled up the lagoon's surface when they fled the scary (yet incredibly handsome) hiker. On the inland side of the path, salal dangled its white hairy flowers next to picturesque boardwalks spanning the numerous reed-filled marshes in the area. After a mile or so of walking past the tranquil still waters of the lagoon, the loop was closed and I decided I'd hiked enough for one day, and so ended The Great Siltcoos Tour of 2019.

Ant-eye view of a mushroom on a tree trunk
For more photos of these three trails, please visit the Flickr album.

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